Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Strindberg: A Life

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Novelist, satirist, poet, photographer, painter, alchemist, and hellraiser-August Strindberg was all these, and yet he is principally known, in Arthur Miller's words, as "the mad inventor of modern theater" who led playwriting out of the polite drawing room into the snakepit of psychological warfare. This biography, supported by extensive new research, describes the eventful and complicated life of one of the great literary figures in world literature. Sue Prideaux organizes Strindberg's story into a gripping and highly readable narrative that both illuminates his work and restores humor and humanity to a man often shrugged off as too difficult.

    Best known for his playMiss Julie,Strindberg wrote sixty other plays, three books of poetry, eighteen novels, and nine autobiographies. Even more than most, Strindberg is a writer whose life sheds invaluable light on his work. Prideaux explores Strindberg's many art-life connections, revealing for the first time the originals who inspired the characters of Miss Julie and her servant Jean, the bizarre circumstances in which the play was written, and the real suicide that inspired the shattering ending of the play. Recounting the playwright's journey through the "real" world as well as the world of belief and ideas, Prideaux marks the centenary of Strindberg's death in 1912 with a biography worthy of the man who laid the foundation for Western drama through the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19419-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. None)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)

    During the winter of 1887–8 August Strindberg and his family took up residence in the smartest district of Copenhagen, living well beyond their means in the Hotel Leopold just round the corner from the Royal Theatre.¹ Always fond of a good address, Strindberg was inclined to be optimistic, not to say unrealistic, where future prospects were concerned and throughout this winter he was nourishing hopes that Denmark might prove more profitable than his native Sweden where his plays were not being performed, his books were not being published and he had seven manuscripts lying around that nobody wanted. His...

    (pp. None)

    Strindberg’s The Son of a Servant is one of the few autobiographies to begin by detailing the class system at the time of its subject’s birth, so all-pervasively did its static, impenetrable and (to a child) mysterious structure dominate his country, his home and his emerging consciousness. Class functioned as an interpretive code providing his young mind with a map for how the world works. Together with religion, class-consciousness became part of the lining of his mind which he could never entirely decorticate, even during his most enthusiastic period as a socialist.

    On the walls of the family home hung...

    (pp. None)

    In 1842 Sweden had introduced compulsory education for its children and fourteen years later, in 1856, August Strindberg started school, aged seven. At this time Sweden had a population of 3.5 million. Thirty years earlier it had been 2.5 million and in the space of Strindberg’s lifetime it grew to 5 million.¹ He was part of a population explosion brought about by ‘Peace, vaccines and the potato which brought us health, wealth and proletarians’, as a contemporary bishop noted.² Crown Prince Oscar (the future Oscar 1) gave thought to the vastly increased number he would have to rule over and...

    (pp. None)

    Strindberg wrote to his cousin shortly after arriving at Uppsala in September 1871. ‘Directly opposite me is an attic room – somebody told me a young girl was coming to live there’, the letter goes on:

    at length some furniture was carried in – Pow! I thought, now she’s arrived – Slaves lugged in one thing after another – but there was no sign of an owner – I ran my eyes over the stuff – unusually fine furniture – it can’t be a student – a pianoforte – impossible – a sewing basket – Hey! Itisa woman!...

    (pp. None)

    Strindberg never reached Paris. As the steamboat passed the little island of Dalarö, some thirty miles south of Stockholm, he was seized by a fit of suicidal despair and jumped ship.

    A sudden terror of this long and senseless journey seized me … a pain like a toothache began to torment me, but in my confusion I could neither describe nor locate it. The farther the steamer advanced into the open sea, the greater became the strain. I felt as if the umbilical cord that bound me to the country of my birth, to my family, to her, was tearing...

    (pp. None)

    In the spring of 1881 Siri was again pregnant and Dramaten terminated her contract. Strindberg was indignant and urged her to contact a new supporter in his life, Ludvig Josephson,¹ the director at Nya Teatern (the New Theatre). Josephson was a brilliant director whose first stint in Stockholm’s Royal Theatre had ended because the Swedes refused to take direction from a Jew. He then moved to the slightly less anti-Semitic Norway, taking over direction at the Christiania Theatre where they merely shouted ‘Foreigner’ at him which covered both his Swedishness and his Jewishness. He brought Ibsen’s ‘unactable’Peer Gyntsuccessfully...

    (pp. None)

    The water-closet at the end of the journey was situated in Grez-sur-Loing where the Scandinavian artists’ colony included Carl Larsson. Following the criticism of his illustrations toThe Swedish People, Larsson had returned to Paris and put all his efforts into a large narrative history painting swarming with carefully detailed objects in the genre beloved by the coagulation of worthies that formed the jury of the Paris Salon – and they rejected it. Without either admission to the Salon or a scholarship, all avenues seemed closed to him. Weakened by poverty and hunger, Larsson fell ill and became suicidal. He...

    (pp. None)

    Had Strindberg been found guilty and condemned to the two years’ hard labour that justice demanded for the crime of blasphemy, he might have had any number of vociferous supporters but once the fight had been won, Sweden preferred to forget its troublesome martyr.

    ‘At the very moment when I’d gone under the ice, the reactionaries were hitting out at my fingers with their boathooks every time I tried to clamber up’, he wrote to Georg Brandes.¹

    Bonnier remained resolute in his refusal to republishGetting Marriedunexpurgated but Strindberg was in desperate need of money.

    ‘Can you see if...

    (pp. None)

    The pension in Neuchâtel proved no more than a castle in the air but the book written in French was to become a very real construction; French has always been a good language for books driven by despair.

    The homesick little family moved as close as they could to Sweden, huddling back into the Scandinavian artists’ colony in Grez-sur-Loing where they had spent the first light-hearted weeks of exile in the days when all was promise. Many of the same artists were still there and life centred round the twopensionsChevillons and Laurents. Strindberg settled his family into Laurents...

    (pp. None)

    From about 1850 when the paper negative was invented, certain prophets of the self-conscious such as Baudelaire and Mallarmé did not neglect the importance of being photographed. The image had become an integral part of modern, self-centred literary work and while previous generations had been prone to have their portraits cluttered up with historical references, the men at the cutting edge of late nineteenth-century culture were making statements about themselves as modern men who neither wanted nor needed cultural context. Strindberg could see the importance of this. He bought a camera, rigged up a cable release and took a series...

    (pp. None)

    Eight days after his divorce Strindberg took a train to Berlin, disembarking at the exuberantly vaulted Stettiner Bahnhof on 1 October 1892, carrying a small suitcase of clothes and an enormous, bulging green sack that was his filing system and his archive and all his literary work in progress.

    A small group of admirers formed a welcoming committee at the station. He gave them, one said, ‘the smile of a child who is headed straight into the woods of fairyland’, another noticed how small were his feet, how precise his steps and how this added a quality of remoteness and...

    (pp. None)

    After three weeks in the pretty, flower-girt cottage in Heligoland with Strindberg pottering about his scientific experiments and Frida trying to sell both his and her own articles to German newspapers, she suggested a visit to England. He was reluctant. He found the English language more impenetrable than Chinese but Frida, who had been at school in England, pointed out the importance of three literary figures who were showing interest in his work. The critic Justin Huntley MacCarthy had written extremely perceptively onThe Fatherin theFortnightly Review.¹ William Heinemann² had expressed interest in publishing a translation ofSomnambulist...

    (pp. None)

    ‘Never has Paris, in the shrill voices of the newspaper boys, in the evening, in the tangle of carriages, in the busy bustle of the people, in the brutal jostling of the passers-by, struck me so forcibly, as the capital of madness, inhabited by lunatics’, wrote that hardened Parisian Edmond de Goncourt in his journal of 1894.¹ The same year, Félix Valloton published his harsh graphic seriesParis intenseshowing the sharp-elbowed savagery of the pickpockety pavements. Pointillists, Impressionists and Divisionists honed their understanding of optical sciences in capturing the sense of movement of the whirling boulevards. Baedeker describes the...

  17. 14 INFERNO
    (pp. None)

    In February 1896 Strindberg ceased to live in the sociable hurly-burly of the Molard circle, though he continued to take his evening meal in Madame Charlotte’scrèmeriewhere three of his canvases hung on the walls alongside Gauguin’s. The motherly Madame Charlotte cherished hopes of marrying Strindberg who was unaware of her ambitions. He was intensely attracted to an English sculptress called Miss Lecain whom he met at one of Gauguin’s Thursday evening parties. She looked ravishing dressed in a kimono and little else is known about her except that Gauguin warned him off, saying she was a notorious man-eater....

    (pp. None)

    When he arrived in Dornach everyone was there but Frida, who was in Munich. Unbeknown to Strindberg, she was the mistress of Frank Wedekind and both of them were working, more or less, for Albert Langen on his satirical magazineSimplicissimus. Strindberg had thought Frida’s invitation to Dornach was a first step towards reconciliation and as she was not there he conjectured that she wished to be cajoled. He wrote her beautiful letters, to no effect. Her mother Maria Uhl, however, clasped both Strindberg and his spiritual crisis to her bosom. Frida had always found her mother overly fey and...

    (pp. None)

    During the spring of 1900 Strindberg was Stockholm’s darling. His plays swept the theatres. With the history plays andCrimes and Crimessuch a success, the Royal Dramatic Theatre known as Dramaten decided that it would premiere the difficult Symbolist playTo Damascuslater in the year. The male lead of the Stranger was to be played by August Palme, a good friend of Strindberg’s and an excellent actor. There was no obvious candidate to play the Lady who is a complex mixture of Siri, Frida and Redemption. Palme suggested Strindberg take a look at Dramaten’s production ofA Midsummer...

    (pp. None)

    In December 1900 the journalist Gustaf Uddgren, long an admirer, received a letter.

    Strindberg wrote me to the effect that I must see him on an important business matter … It was the question of starting a Strindberg Theatre. It hurt him terribly to write drama after drama and not see a single one on the stage. This underrating of his capacity as a dramatist must not go onad infinitum. In order to put a stop to it, he wanted me to help him start a Strindberg Theatre.¹

    Uddgren came to call on him in the Red House at...

    (pp. None)

    On 11 July 1908 Strindberg moved into three rooms on the fourth floor of the apartment block at 85 Drottninggatan. He could hardly have been closer to the two most important houses of his childhood years and the house in which Siri had lived when he first met her. Every day his morning walk took him through his earliest history, but the home he set out from was a brand new building, high and handsome, with a corner tower, a green-tiled roof and clean, Art Nouveau lines. With an author’s love of titles, he named it the Green Tower but...

  22. NOTES
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)
    (pp. None)